How to Deal With Last Minute Vacation Rental Cancellations

cancellation policy

We’ve all been there.  A message lets us know that a guest has cancelled their reservation, sometimes minutes before he/she was due to check in.  There might be some stress as you ponder solutions, but if you set up systems to deal with cancellations, you can get rid of that stress and potentially re-book that spot right away.

Why Are There Cancellations?

There are many reasons, and prior to March 2020, “health reasons” was rarely seen, if ever.  But obviously these days you’ll need to take into consideration decisions that are made very far away from you.  Maybe a country has issued a lockdown or a travel restriction, and that country is where your guest is flying from.  

The pandemic has also made guests prefer flexibility more than in the past and so we’ve seen more cancellations due to a last-minute change in plans that have nothing to do with travel restrictions.

What to Do?

You want to think about cancellations in terms of what you should be doing before, during, and after a cancellation.


Just as there’s preventative measures you can take to avoid getting sick during cold season (Vitamin C, get some sleep, honey and lemon tea) you can also take preventative measures to prevent guests from cancelling.  This can be as simple as checking in with the guests once or twice after they’ve booked.  You don’t want to overdo it, but by being friendly and available, you automatically make the guest look forward to the booking, and put a mental barrier in place to prevent cancellation.

You also can put in policies that mitigate your risk, depending on what platforms your listing is on.  This could be minimum night stays or cancellation policies that only offer partial refunds when a cancellation is made within seven days of check-in.  These policies “pre-qualify” the flakiest guests.  While some platforms will encourage you to offer maximum flexibility to make you attractive to more guests, it’s also important to manage your profits and revenue and not having any way to minimize your exposure to cancellations is itself a risk.


Right after a cancellation happens, you should make sure that the listing is clear for a new reservation at a price you’re happy with.  Experience will tell you whether you can get the same rate and if there’s a natural demand on the various platforms you’re on.  It’ll also tell you if knocking off a percentage gets the listing snapped up.  

Outside of the platform, you’ll want to post on last minute vacation forums or Facebook groups, as well as on any social media that your properties have a presence on.  You honestly never know who might need a last minute room or getaway and your place may be perfect.


Once you’ve done all you can to get the room re-sold, you can turn your attention to the cancelled guest.  If they have only requested a cancellation, ask them to consider rescheduling to another time.  In cases in which the cancellation was outright, don’t hesitate to reach out with an offer to get them to come back at another date that makes sense for them, taking into account whatever they may have told you occasioned the cancellation in the first place.

Once you have systems in place to deal with cancellations, you’ll see them as an unavoidable part of being a vacation rental host, and using steps like what we proposed above, you’ll leave aside the stress and focus on possibly getting a replacement guest.

This content originally appeared in our twice-monthly Guest Book Newsletter.

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